Thanksgiving Smorgasbord

If you’re traveling today, or just need to read something turkey-related, I’m serving up hot holiday helpings right here.

Are you far away from your family this Thanksgiving? Do you miss them even though they are dysfunctional as fuck? Here’s a post for you: Sunny, with a Chance of Thanksgiving.

Are you bringing a significant other home for Thanksgiving? Are you worried that they won’t fit in? Try this post: Hearts & Turkeys.

If you’re gonna play it sane and do a leisurely little 5K Turkey Trot, I’ve got a post about people who chase turkeys for 2 miles.

If you’ve been training hard to kick someone’s ass in a 10K Turkey Trot, you can read about my one — and only — 10K attempt.

If you lost hours slaving over a Thanksgiving dish that a) got eaten by the dog, b) got burned when your husband accidentally set the oven to “broil”, or c) got dropped on the floor, here’s a post from last year’s baking disaster.

Wishing all my U.S. readers safe travels and loose pants this week!

Top 10 Reasons To Have Babies…Refuted (#204)

My husband wanted a baby.

Meanwhile, I literally had a whole list of reasons NOT to have a baby.

But in the interests of fairness, I interviewed and studied various parents. I came up a list of reasons why (other) people want children…along with reasons why those reasons are screwed up.

#1. RELIGION. Various religions have spent centuries insisting it’s God’s will that their congregations reproduce like rabbits. In Utah, for example, Mormon Elders are horrified when women talk about putting off marriage or childbirth. “But what about the poor souls in Heaven?” they ask. “You’re not thinking of the poor little souls just waiting for a body!”

Why, sure, Mr. Elder. And you’re not thinking about how the more your congregation procreates, the more money their progeny’s 10% tithes generate. (Fun fact: The LDS Church will actually bill their members based on their W2 forms.) And the evangelicals? Don’t get me started on how those pastors actively seek to expand their flocks and their control of their flocks by insisting on 19 kids and homeschooling.

Since I don’t believe in God or Heaven, though, I am unmoved by the supposed horror of spiritual traffic jams. Next.

#2. SECURITY (i.e., Medieval Social Security). This one is especially big in Chinese families. It’s expected that the son will take care of his aging parents, physically and financially. Even my Chinese-American husband Andy, who has a 401K, a pension, and a social security check waiting for him, has made comments about how a child would care for him in his old age.

But depending on your children is questionable. Even in a rule-following, age-respecting society like Japan’s, adult children dump their aging parents. Some grandparents even seek imprisonment to get shelter and food.

#3. SOCIETAL EXPECTATIONS That Motherhood Is the Highest Calling and All Women Shall Aspire to That Pinnacle of Womanhood. More medieval logic — the kind that coincides with keeping women away from the corridors of power and sometimes financial autonomy.

Modern women, armed with modern birth control, can pick their own pinnacles. Everyone else, shut up.

#4. LONELINESS. I know women who can’t stand being alone. They think that having a child will mean never being alone again. They have a point. A demanding child means you won’t even go to the bathroom alone for about 5 years.

Yet how entitled and repulsive to make your own child’s small presence responsible for your happiness. I suggest therapy instead.

#5. A SENSE OF PURPOSE. This was my mother. She was addicted to being pregnant and shepherding new life into the world. It’s a little (OR A LOT) like today’s conservatives, obsessed with the survival of All The Zygotes — until they leave the womb.

Once Mom’s kids were born, though, we grew up moderately feral, as she was too busy shepherding in the next new baby to get her kids to school. Or the doctor. (Notice again the parallels with the GOP’s slashing educational funding and medical insurance for children.)

#6. ENTRAPMENT. I hate, hate, HATE that I have to mention this one, because it wounds my liberated female soul, but I’ve seen it firsthand. One of my dance partners – an independently wealthy one – had a hookup deliberately get pregnant and get child support.

What a special scenario. Someday the kid asks, “Mommy, how was I made?” and she’ll get to answer, “Through greed, child.”

It’s never too early to ready your child for the major leagues.

#7. GLORY DAYS. There are parents who’ve realized that their own dreams of greatness will never be realized. So these Sports Dads and Dance Moms live for the successes of their progeny. Sometimes, the progeny succeed. Mostly, though, these children wind up in pain or even suicidal.

#8. THEY JUST LOVE BABIES. These persons are also known as “Baby Hogs.” Loving babies is sweet, sure, but remember that babies are much like puppies: cute and squishy when small, but destined to grow into less cute, more obstinate creatures with astounding destructive powers.

I suggest puppies or kittens instead, as they at least don’t have the opposable thumbs necessary for automatic weaponry. (Thank God, right? Imagine your hungry, pissy, sociopathic cat with a Glock.)

#9. TROPHY KIDS. Nope, it’s not just for wives. There’s a whole bunch of McMansion owners who, not content with having just one kid, use a second, third, fourth, or even fifth child to proclaim their status: “Look at us! We can afford the $250,000 necessary to raise an American kid 4 times over! Suck on that, Joneses!

#10. IMMORTALITY. People like the idea that a piece of them will live on after they’re gone. And the more kids you have, the more likely that one of them will survive to pass on your DNA. Once upon a Black Plague, this attitude was understandable.

Now that overpopulation is the greatest accelerator of climate change, a desire for immortality through multiple kids only serves to ensure that it’ll be cockroach DNA inheriting the earth — not yours.

*****

As you can see, I found not a single noble — or even rational — reason to bring a small human into being.

On the other hand, I did think of an amazingly noble reason to raise a child.

I thought of the millions of adoptable kids around the world. Children who lost birth parents to war, poverty, or disease. Their birth mother might not have had access to birth control. She might have been raped. Maybe she struggled with addiction. Whatever the reason, when there were so many existing children who needed loving homes, I found it difficult to justify creating new ones.

Maybe, just maybe, I could get my husband on board with that.


Shout out to adoptive parents around the world

and two particular Moms in Los Angeles.:

Well done, you.

Warning: Slow Cook in the Kitchen (#203)

My kitchen at the height of Baking Season: Christmas.

When we get new neighbors, I usually take them a plate of baked goods. If they’re lucky, the newbies moved in between October and December, which my husband dubbed “Baking Season.” Baking Season starts with cream cheese sugar cookies shaped like fall leaves and moves onto maple cream pie, apple pie, maple sugar rugelach, and candy cane meringues.

The new neighbors usually bring back an empty plate and sexist mouthful of compliments. “You’re a fantastic cook! Your husband is so lucky!

“Thanks. But actually,” I explain, “my husband Andy is the real chef in our house. You should taste his pot stickers or homemade ravioli. I only bake.”

“Uh, er, um, really?”

“Yep. I’m a whiz at the oven, but terrible on the stove top.” I tell them.

And off they go, perhaps contemplating their default assumptions about women in the kitchen. Or maybe they make the distinction between baking and cooking for the first time.

I, on the other hand, have been pondering the differences between baking and cooking for years.

Because while I can make a Devil’s food cake with poured ganache frosting to die for, I really, really suck at cooking.

And I hate sucking at stuff.

*****

If you don’t follow me on Instagram or Twitter, you should. While this blog is mostly a memoir, my Instagram account and Twitter feed are relatively current.

Currently, Andy is disabled (gruesome pictures on Instagram).

Two months ago, Andy tore his quadriceps tendon. Maybe he was trying to one-up my torn quadriceps muscle. Maybe Andy’s just got problematic tendons, since he already ruptured his Achilles tendon. Maybe all Chinese-Americans have problematic tendons, cuz look what just happened to poor Jeremy Lin.

Andy’s immobilizer.

Whatever the cause, the result is brutal: surgery involving drilling holes in Andy’s bones to reattach the tendon, then months with the knee immobilized, raised and iced. Once his knee returns to being orange-sized as opposed to melon sized, he can expect 6-12 months of physical therapy.

Worst of all, he can’t cook. (I say this is the worst part. Andy disagrees. You can probably guess what activity he can’t do that’s got him super upset.)

My siblings understood that the loss of the household chef was a calamity of the highest order. We all grew up with food issues; we all married people who are amazing in the kitchen. My sibs chipped in and sent a generous GrubHub certificate. Several of my girlfriends also dropped off dinner.

I picked up a lot of take out. But eating out is expensive and often unhealthy.

At some point during Andy’s lengthy recovery, I would have to cook.

God help us.

*****

My first night in the kitchen, I burned the rice. In the rice cooker.

Andy fretted over the fact that he’d put off mounting the fire extinguisher in the kitchen. I rolled my eyes at him. “A fluke,” I insisted.

My second try was pasta Carbonaro. I underestimated the size of the pot necessary for the noodles and dumped them in the water too fast. Some flipped out of the pot, fell into the gas burner, and caught on fire.

I put out the fire with an oven mitt and the cat squirter bottle. Then I sheepishly got the fire extinguisher out of the garage.

I retreated from the kitchen for a few days, then returned with a meal I’d made before.

My spicy Thai tofu wasn’t burned or flambéd, but it wasn’t spicy.

“I don’t get it,” I groaned. “I’m using the same recipe! How can it not taste like yours?!”

“It’s fine, honey” Andy assured me.

“You mean it’s EDIBLE,” I corrected him. “Edible is not the same as fine. Especially not when your husband thinks edible includes everything from sheep’s brains to cold jellyfish.”

“I think maybe it’s not quite spicy enough.”

“But I used SO MUCH red curry paste!”

“Yeah, the paste sometimes lacks the proper punch. If it doesn’t taste spicy after simmering for a few minutes, I throw in a jalapeño.”

“Wait. You taste it? Before it’s completely cooked? Isn’t that unsanitary?”

Andy shrugged. “Maybe it’s unsanitary. But it’s necessary.”

“Easy for you to say! You have that cast iron Chinese stomach!” It’s true. The man never throws up. Partially cooked Cantonese cuisine weeded out weak stomachs centuries ago. Andy and I can eat the same questionable restaurant meal and I’m the only one lying on the bathroom floor for the next 24 hours.

“It’s only tofu, honey. Not raw meat.”

“But you taste the meat stuff, too, don’t you?! That’s why your food is so much better! You have an unfair advantage!”

Andy was unimpressed by the light bulb that was practically visible over my head. “All chefs taste as they go.”

I thought about this as I washed the dishes. I didn’t do much tasting when I was baking. Baking is chemistry, really – you carefully measure ingredients, add them in strict order, and heat to transform them. You can’t be tasting a cake halfway through the baking process and adding more sugar.

So if I was going to play to my strengths, I needed a style of cooking that was front loaded like baking. A style where there’s measuring, prepping, browning, and then the food gets shoved in the oven. Food is forgotten until a timer goes off, and then comes out delicious.

You know what that style is?

The slow cooker.

And here is the book that saved the day.

I’d actually gotten Lynn Alley’s The Gourmet Slow Cooker for Andy after my brother-in-law made the Italian pot roast and served it over polenta. The meal was delicious. I wanted it again. In a fit of subtlety, I gave Andy the cookbook and a crock pot from Costco. A few times a year, Andy made the Italian pot roast.

He never tried any other recipes, though. Andy is partial to his pots and wok and gas burners.

The first recipe I tried was the split pea soup. I baked some homemade bread to go with it (i.e., so at least we’d have something edible in case of failure).

Andy said, “Huh. Not bad,” and ate his entire bowl.

Next up, was Tuscan bean soup (and more bread, in case the first success was a fluke). Andy had two bowls.

I branched out with beef burgundy. Andy eyed it with trepidation at first, but then had three helpings.

I tried chicken tarragon next. Only I realized partway through the cooking that tarragon smells like licorice, which I hate. So I replaced the offending tarragon with rosemary (which grows on our patio) and thyme. The chicken turned out well, with only a hint of licorice in the potatoes.

Did you know you can do pinto beans in the slow cooker? Once you have beans, you can do burritos or nachos, easy.

After pinto beans, I made Irish potatoes and plum pork.

We had Mr. Picky for dinner. Mr. Picky is a huge fan of meat and mushrooms. He’s also a huge fan of Andy’s beef stew. I’m pretty sure he wanted to bail once he figured out I’d be cooking.

I made beef burgundy.

He loved it. He said, “This is even better than Andy’s stew!”

I shall glory in those words forever and I shall never let my husband forget them. The slow cooker rocks.

Best of all, I haven’t had to use the fire extinguisher once.

Yeah, I made that beef burgundy. Nom, nom, nom.